Whole Parenting Family

Improve Your Child’s Character–Two Sayings That Help

tea party

I wrote this a while back and never published it. I suppose I was saving it for a rainy day. With BabyLoves here, and the world’s longest recovery, a little food for thought on character building that maybe someday we will be successful at!

And no, I’m not going to quote Calvin’s dad from my favorite comic strip by Bill Waterson (still love reading Calvin and Hobbes), though he always told Calvin that doing X undesirable chore built his character. These are two Catholic sayings we grew up hearing that I think we’ll pass along to our children as well. I don’t think you have to be Catholic or Christian to appreciate them–as their properties of helping children become less self-focused are universally applicable through religious, spiritual, and moral beliefs of all kinds.

1) Offer it up.

Yeah, does that one sound familiar, my Catholic friends? It means to stop complaining about something and instead, offer up your suffering for others. It’s like a Catholic version of sharing karma–like I’m suffering, but I’m going to channel my pain for someone else’s gain. This was frequently told to us when we whined in the car about not being there yet, whined at the dining table about not liking what was for dinner, or whined in bed because our sibling was hogging the covers.

So is it just a polite, thinly veiled religious way of saying shut it to your kids? It could look like that, but I truly think it that for me as a child it helped remind me that others were suffering far more than I was, and that I could offer my suffering up to ease theirs.

I could give an intangible gift to someone wholly unconnected to me (like the poor souls in Purgatory –that was a regular recommendation) or the children who didn’t have food or shelter –that too). I could partake in the mystery of God’s infinitely abounding love. I could reach beyond my own life, time, and space. Pretty neat stuff.

Pretty precious when SuperBoy stubs his toe, and says I’m going to offer it up for Tia Hen. No clue why he thinks my aunt Helen needs it, but hey, that’s fab.

2) Do it for the honor and glory of God. (okay, this one is probably limited to Christians in a way)

We heard this one with regular frequency as well, usually in the context of why to try hard, or once we had achieved a success, Whom to point our credit towards. Why work hard in school? To give honor and glory to God. Why try our best in the swim meet? Ditto. And when we did win a blue ribbon, instead of being self-congratulatory to the max, as children are oft prone to do, we were encouraged to thank God for our talents, and to inwardly give that gift back to Him.

Is this a way of detracting from children’s achievements or discouraging them from striving for their best for the purposes of self-betterment and a healthy sense of confidence? Certainly not. But when winning is everything, and personal acclamation the goal of every sports, music, and artistic struggle, how does a child learn that he or she is not the end-all-be-all? If we encourage our children to try their best, to do it for–not their own honor–the honor of a Higher Power, to give their gifts back to the One they received them from, aren’t we teaching them about giving in love? And a righteous sense of hierarchy? And deference?

Also, if you do things for the honor and glory of someone else, you always know that the effort, not the outcome, is appreciated. This is not an oppressive parental maneuver, guilting children into obedience, or crushing their spirit. Rather, it is a simple and beautiful way to teach self-possession because we cannot give what we do not have. Children learn to own themselves and their efforts, and then to give themselves back to their Creator.

Gotta be honest and say this one hasn’t taken full shape in our lives as our oldest just turned four, nor does he do any sort of regular activities without us that I could use as illustrative of the point. But it resonates and reminds me how my parents tried to instill humility in me. Food for thought. Not exactly dessert for thought, but certainly like a quinoa dish.